Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Sunday, 20 October 2013

Back to School

by Jennifer Young

I
Back to School! Image courtesy of russavia
(via Wikimedia Commons)
once listened to an interview with the soprano Lesley Garrett on the BBC’s Test Match Special (a peculiar circumstance in itself: who would have thought the divine Lesley was a total devotee of cricket?). She chatted away to the presenter, Jonathan Agnew, so comfortably that it was like listening to two old friends in the pub. But the thing that intrigued me most was that Lesley, star of stage and doyenne of the recording studio, has weekly singing lessons.

Does she need them? Does she really? With a voice like that? Well, maybe she does – but I know for certain that I, with a (very) modest publishing history behind me, have very much still to learn. It was with that in mind that I signed up for a creative writing course. The course is run by Edinburgh University and led by the inspirational Mary Gladstone and it benefits me not because of what I learn – though I do learn, or am reminded of, a lot – but because it stimulates me.

I’m a strange kind of writer. Maybe I’m a lazy one, who knows? Ideas float past and if I’m lucky I grab one and fix it on the page with a pin like the worst kind of indiscriminate Victorian butterfly collector. What I need is discipline and, though quietly spoken, Mary provides just that. Each week she sets us a task and each week I, the arch procrastinator, produce a piece of up to 500 words on the set topic without a murmur (though I confess to having scribbled a poem in the first part of the class once, in time to produce it for assessment after the break). For someone like me that has to be good.

You never know where your homework might end up....
A strange thing has happened since I began the class, though. My creativity seems to have increased. I have ideas. (You have to have an idea if you have to write a piece.) But I have more than one each week, or one leads to another, or a character exercise bursts into a fully-formed villain creeping around my head looking for a plot in which to immerse himself. When I’m writing – more particularly when someone is leading me - I don’t run out of things to say. I have a notebook where I jot down my ideas and now I’ve shaken the dust off it I can’t stop writing down thoughts. Most of them won’t turn into anything – for one thing I don’t have time and for another most of them aren’t designed to sell: they’re just exercises.

Some years ago I was a member of an earlier class of Mary’s. I was unpublished then. But it was a piece she set – 500 words on the theme ‘dreaming’ that became my first published story in the People’s Friend. A character she inspired me to create became my second story and another exercise (an object must change between the beginning and the end) became my third. And so on. I can’t remember the details but I think I credit those classes in some way with everything I’ve had published since.

So even if I’m not quite sure why Lesley Garret takes lessons, I know why I do. And now I’d best be off and do my homework….

13 comments:

  1. Ooh Jennifer, that sounds so exciting! And yes, I do believe that creativity begets creativity. There will be no stopping you now!

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  2. It's definitely a good idea to be stimulated in whatever creative field you work. It's self-discipline that I lacked for many years. Good luck with your increased list of ideas, Jennifer!

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    1. Well, it was the classes that got me writing seriously in the first place. Even when I turn out something rushed, I know I've done it, even though it can be years before the pieces come to fruition.

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  3. I did classes a long time ago and I agree with you, it stimulates your creativity, plus it provides the discipline needed to keep on writing. Keep going with the ideas and we'll soon be queuing up to buy the books.

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    1. Maybe not books, but hopefully at least some short stories!

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  4. Sounds interesting, Jennifer. I find the same thing happens when I give workshops. I'm not claiming to be a creative writing teacher but I think any contact with people enthusiastic about writing is always stimulating. Keep the ideas flowing.

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  5. You're exactly right, Bill. I think if I didn't have regular contact with writers - online and face to face - I wouldn't believe I was a writer myself (which I think I do, now). And a weekly deadline is a very good thing for me personally. (Though the class is tomorrow and I haven't done my 500 words yet.)

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  6. The Creative Writing classes sound brilliant, Jennifer. I'm sure that's what I need. I'm sure I'm even lazier than you. But then I'd need to be disciplined enough to go to the class...

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  7. Haha - you made me giggle Jennifer - "Though the class is tomorrow and I haven't done my 500 words yet." It's amazing how much pressure a deadline can put on a writer and I'm afraid that like you I'm always up against mine!
    Janice xx

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    1. Janice, you'll be delighted to know I got it done!

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  8. Excellent post. And I can't sing the praises of courses either....taking a Writers' News home study course really kickstarted things for me.

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  9. Whoops....that should have praise them high enough.....battling with an ergowhatsit keyboard here and I'm getting more typos than usual...:)

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